Mekhi Ferguson With Aunt Priscilla
“This isn’t bad luck, this is life…”
– Priscilla, great aunt
Priscilla spent a little more than a quarter–century on the assembly line at General Motors on Broening Highway, mostly putting together mini–vans. In 2000, the Baltimore native received a permanent disability pension for osteoarthritis and began dreaming of seeing the world.
“I was going to be a free spirit,” said Priscilla – known to her family as “Prie” –who turns 60 in June.
But the Spirit – the God she worships at New Psalmist Baptist Church near Woodlawn – had other plans for her.
For the last half–dozen years or so, Priscilla has been the guardian – “Mom, great–aunt, Grandmom all rolled into one,” she said – of 13–year–old Mekhi, a Baltimore County 7th grader.
Caring for Mekhi (pronounced MAH–kai) has been a hard, slow road – the cheerful young man has already undergone 23 operations to correct a variety of birth defects with more surgeries to come. Three times he has lived at a hospital for a year or longer.
It is not the life Priscilla would have chosen in the vestibule of her golden years. Who would? But after retirement she found stamp collecting boring and didn’t feel old enough to do nothing but garden. Into this breach came an unexpected motherhood, one she says she “wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Mekhi is the grandson of Priscilla's deceased sister, Patricia. His mother, a Hurricane Katrina survivor named Melanie, was a diabetic who died in 2008 after returning to Baltimore. In that moment, a doting great aunt with globe–trotting dreams became the sole custodian of a child born with spina bifida, a knee that would not lock in place, a cleft palate and related problems.
“I tried to tell God, ‘You don’t need me. I’m a 51–year–old woman, leave me be,” said Priscilla, now 59 and laughing at her naïvete. “Today Mekhi calls me Mom and I call him son. I can’t imagine my life without him.”
Priscilla praises Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital as the place she could not do without, the place where Mehki has spent much of his life.
She said that it was after surgeries “to lengthen his limbs” that Mekhi lived at MWPH for a year of convalescence, the time he began to call the North Baltimore campus home.
“It feels really great there, I love it,” said Mekhi, a kid with a high tolerance for pain who is proficient X–Box gamer (Grand Theft Auto is his current favorite) and wrote a humorous book at Mount Washington called “Life at the Hospital.”
One of several books Mekhi wrote as part of his home–schooling while a long–term patient, “Life at the Hospital” describes the fun stuff like a luau for the patients, the therapy pool and some of his favorite meals.
Personality is something that Mekhi has to spare. He’s the kind of kid who takes it upon himself to visit other patients facing surgery at MWPH when he shows up on Fridays for physical therapy and Tuesdays for speech therapy.
A smiling symbol of recovery, Mehki shows the other patients that if he can do it, they can do it. He tells them that the results are well worth the struggle.
Recently fitted for orthodontic braces, Mekhi is scheduled to undergo his next surgery about the time he turns 17. That operation will break his jaw and move his upper teeth forward so they align with the lower.
“I have trust and I have faith,” said Priscilla, “but this one makes me squeamish.”
And all those put–on–hold dreams about hopping a plane to see what there is to see?
One of these days, said Priscilla, she and Mekhi will take a Disney World cruise together.
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